Well-known officials on the global endurance circuit have received formal warnings from the FEI for failing to comply with their “duties and obligations” at the showcase 120km CEI 2* in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, on February 1. The ground jury president at the same event is also facing disciplinary proceedings.

They are the first officials disciplined through the FEI’s new Administrative Disciplinary Procedure which applied from January 1, following complaints about their work at the event which boasted 3.6 million Euros prize fund.

Chief steward Fernando Carrillo of Spain – who was foreign judge at the 2018 World Equestrian Games – received a formal warning and was briefly suspended until he had attended a refresher seminar, while the technical delegate, Jordan’s Nasri Rashid Nowar, received a formal warning.

Those two admitted the offence. However, any wrongdoing has been denied by ground jury president Ramon Lopez Lax, also from Spain. He now faces further proceedings: the FEI legal department is recommending a three-month suspension.

Campaigning group Clean Endurance welcomed the move, having sent video evidence to the FEI of rule breaches and other welfare oversights captured from the official Al Ula livestream.

Saudi Arabia is bidding to stage the endurance world championships in 2022. The first year of the Al Ula race, 2019, was notable for its larger number of inexperienced riders. A record seven of the 30 horses sampled testing positive for prohibited substances. There was a change in organiser for 2020, though many of the FEI officials remained the same.

Concerns included the bulldozer-flattened track filled with cars driving among the horses; unauthorised assistance and unidentifiable crew; key data such a heart-rates missing from results of eliminated horses; horses held by the ears during cooling; use of prohibited long shanked bits used with a single rein; and a top placing for a horse with henna on its legs. The provisional results showed two Serious Injuries, two Minor Injuries, seven disqualifications for not presenting at the vetgate, and 85 finishers out of 189 starters.

A Clean Endurance spokesman said: “This event with record prize money of 3.6 million Euros is a high-risk competition attracting inexperienced and unskilled riders, thus subjecting horses and other riders to the risk of injury. This competition clearly requires highly diligent, competent and conflict-of-interest-free officials, stringent rule application and FEI oversight of the highest level.

“Clean Endurance regrets that the FEI did not send an evidently much needed independent observer to monitor the event and report on rule breaches, horse welfare issues and the performance of the officials.
“Perhaps the most concerning issue of all was the appalling amount of dust (mainly generated by cars driving along the track) in which horses were ridden hard: at an average speed of over 25 kmph for over 120 kms, with final loop speeds of close to 32 kmph for the first nine combinations.

“Riders protected themselves by wearing dust masks and clearly had no concern for the discomfort and potential long-term damage to the eyes and lungs of their horses. The Officials at this competition had the duty and the authority to remedy this on the day, but they visibly failed to even attempt to do so.”

Footage from the ride can be seen here.